In July 1995 Bosnian Serb forces under General Ratko Mladic murdered some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys after the fall of the enclave of Srebrenica. It was a seminal event in the history, not just of the Balkans but of the rest of this part of Europe too. The failure of Western leaders to act is likely to have been one of the considerations in mind when they decided to go to war with Milosević's Serbia over Kosovo in 1999.
Much has been written about Srebrenica but one of the most profound books of all was written by Chuck Sudetic who worked for the New York Times covering the Croatian and Bosnian wars. Much of the story was told through the eyes of the Čelik family, to whom he is distantly related by marriage. They came from a hamlet in eastern Bosnia and eventually ended up in besieged Srebrenica. Their story gave Sudetic an extraordinary insight, especially into the way that local historical memories shaped peoples' actions in our times. Naser Orić was the commander of Bosnian Muslim forces in Srebrenica and Žepa was another less populated enclave, which was close but physically separated from Srebrenica. This passage describes events in 1992.
In late September, Orić and Žepa's commander, Avdo Palić, amassed their forces around Podravanje, a Serb village that controls a rich bauxite pit and straddles the ancient caravan route between Srebrenica and Žepa. Serb fighters in Podravanje had been drawing Muslim blood since the beginning of the war. They had not forgotten that the Austrian army, which included many local Muslims, had burned their village in 1914 and that the Ustaše, who also included many Muslims from neighbouring villages, had killed over 250 Serbs and burned the place in 1942 and 1943. Podravanje's Serbs had been firing mortars and tank cannons into Srebrenica and nearby Muslim hamlets for months and been ambushing Muslims hiking between Žepa and Srebrenica, just as their ancestors had done in the summer of 1943 when Naza Čelik, Huso's grandmother, was killed there. Now Orić wanted to drive the Serbs out and free the mountain trail between Srebrenica and Žepa.
After the village was taken the torbari – or bag people – rushed in. They were the hungry of Srebrenica who followed the troops with their bags to raid for food and whatever else they could find.
Paja grew angry at himself as he watched the men and women stream back into Srebrenica, bent over under the weight of rucksacks stuffed with meat, potatoes, flour, beans, and salt. Down the mountain into town came blankets, mattresses, clothing, canisters of gasoline, and farm tools. Paja had known that the attack was coming – everyone in Srebrenica had known the attack was coming – but he had been afraid to go. Paja had never before seen a Muslim attack that had ended in anything but retreat and confusion.
Blood and Vengeance: One Family's Story of the War in Bosnia. Chuck Sudetic. 1998.
[pp. 157-8 / W. W. Norton]